Two women standing in front of a bus.

Homeless in RI: The Dignity Bus was on its way to help – until it wasn’t

Photo: Dignity Bus and volunteers from The Source, Florida

This story is updated from May 12th story which can be accessed here: (

There was a new, creative idea in the works at the time homeless people were camped outside of the Rhode Island State House that only those “at the top” knew anything about. The plan – to bring a “Dignity Bus” to Rhode Island began in earnest on the day before Thanksgiving – the day before the state of Rhode Island had said that there would be a bed for anyone homeless who wanted one and no one would need to be homeless on Thanksgiving.

Anthony Zorbaugh, the CEO of “I Am The Source, a provider of programs and services, including a 34 bed shelter for the homeless operates out of Vero Beach, Florida, tells the story of how he became involved with Rhode Island’s plan to provide temporary shelter using one of his specialized 45-foot buses.

Zorbaugh says Neil Steinberg, head of the Rhode Island Foundation and Governor Dan McKee, had heard about the agency’s “Dignity Bus” program. He thinks they saw a brochure, or one had been given to the Governor. The Source operates two buses in the Florida area, and report having 13,000 “sleeps” in the retrofitted bus that has sleeping quarters for approximately 20 people at one time, as well as a staff area for supervision.

Reached Sunday night, RI Foundation’s Chris Barnett confirmed Steinberg’s outreach, saying, “Neil approached the bus company at the request of the Governor.”

The timeline of what happened in the failed plan to bring a bus to RI was relayed to RINewsToday in a Sunday phone call.

Rhode Island would order one bus that would be white with black trim (not wrapped in the faith-based messaging the one in Florida has). The state of RI would buy the bus ($160,000). The Rhode Island Foundation would donate the operating costs (approximately $90,000) for six months. A service provider would be sought by RFP.

Zorbaugh’s group purchased the bus for Rhode Island from their Maryland source and brought it to Florida and began retrofitting it. It did this on the good faith belief that this was a solid purchase from Rhode Island. It would be a “pilot program”. Zorbaugh thought if this were successful, as it has been in Florida, other buses may be ordered, here, and to expand to other states.

The plan changes somewhere around the time the Cranston Street Armory was identified as a location for those sleeping at the RI State House steps. Now, the Community Care Alliance in Woonsocket enters the picture. The bus would be run for northern Rhode Island, by CCA.

There were “a lot of technical requests” made from Rhode Island to Florida, including specific changes in the bus, and then a requirement that it be ANSI certified by going through a Connecticut group called the National RV Institute for Certification. The bus was deemed “all good” at the end, after a technician in Connecticut sent an inspector to Florida to have the bus inspected.

At no point had Rhode Island then – or now – paid any money to The Source. They did issue a purchase order for $160,000.

Then came the request from Rhode Island for someone in Florida to drive the bus up here to see if it would pass Rhode Island inspection. A RIPTA mechanic had flown to Florida to participate in that process. With that request, The Source said that was a request they could not understand, and they would not do.

An attorney from the Savage Law Firm contacted Florida. There was a suggestion to have the bus towed to Rhode Island for the inspection, rather than driven. Zorbaugh refused. They had been ready to transport the bus to Woonsocket and to stay for a week or two to train staff in how to properly use it, but said no state would have required an inspection onsite like that.

At this point The Source’s board of directors met and decided that they had such unmet needs right in Florida that they could not deal with Rhode Island further and wanted to see the bus put towards good use – “toward saving lives – it’s what we do”. The agency has heard nothing since.

Last week, Valerie Gonzalez, a member of the Woonsocket City Council visited Florida and visited with The Source to look at the bus. There is a video of her tour. Zorbaugh describes her reaction as being “blown away” by its capabilities.

If there was not a need in Woonsocket at a future time, it could travel to where it was needed, with the bus being owned by the state.

When asked what went wrong with the whole Diginity Bus “deal”, Zorbaugh said, “it was Secretary Pryor who killed it”.

Video News Report from Florida’s WPTV: – click on link below image to watch – NOTE: RI bus would have been all white, no words/images


From RINewsToday’s earlier story on May 12th:

The Rhode Island Foundation spokesperson Chris Barnett confirmed their funding for the program and said, “We heard about it [not happening] last night. I’ll circle back if there is anything to share”. Last night would have been May 11th.

“The Source”, Anthony Zorbaugh, Executive Director – “The Dignity Bus will not be coming to Rhode Island due to the housing dept and the Governor’s office. We have been sitting on this bus for over 5 months and jumping over every hurdle they (the state) keeps throwing at us. We have spent thousands of dollars and the state has paid us nothing. It is time we put these beds to use.” 

When asked if the program might still be done Zorbaugh responded, “…due to the [back] issues we have had with the state, we are not moving forward with them. We have spent thousands of dollars of our operating funds to help your state – and they have given us roadblock after roadblock.” 

“The Governor’s office went through the community foundation of Rhode Island [Rhode Island Foundation] back in November for us to build a bus. We did that and the state housing dept keeps changing the requirements. We have spent thousands of dollars to help people in your state, and the housing dept (now) wants us to transport the bus to Rhode Island to pass a Rhode Island state inspection. Who asks a builder in another state to do that? At this point in time our Board of Directors have decided that enough is enough, and we will put our bus to use. This is a huge mistake on the state’s part but they are giving you misinformed information. The state should be ashamed on how they conduct business.”

The Source provides a variety of services for the homeless and communities in need, including the bus concept, food trucks, independent temporary pop-up housing, dental and laundry services for transients and a variety of support groups. The group is faith-based but serves all. The bus in Florida is wrapped with religious messages, but the one coming to Rhode Island was plain white with black trim, per Rhode Island’s specs. They say they use homeless to work on the bus to help other homeless. They run a 36 bed shelter and estimate there are 400 homeless people presently in the Vero Beach area.

Sources close to the purchase deal with the state have said that the Florida vendor’s frustration with the state of RI “was warranted, based upon the state’s actions”.

Benedict Leesing, CEO of the Woonsocket based Community Care Alliance said “the unhoused population is rising and we need the capacity” – but did not go further.

About a week ago an argument between two people at a riverfront homeless encampment off Front Street on Sunday led to the arrest of two men on cocaine, assault and weapons charges, according to the Woonsocket Call.

Back in April, the Woonsocket Call ran a story, “Plans in the works for a ‘Dignity Bus’ to come to Woonsocket” (

The story noted that CCA had been working to bring the bus to Woonsocket for 4 months, along with a new Community Partnership Task Force. Sen. Melissa Murray (D-Woonsocket) said the intent was to have the bus ready to go to shelter people during the winter, but the effort has stalled at the state level with purchasing the vehicle.

“This is just a ridiculously long time for procurement and I don’t understand what the holdup is,” she said. “Myself and the Woonsocket representatives have been trying to impress the need on the administration. Either they don’t understand or they’re just not listening.”

Murray sent a letter to Housing Director Stefan Pryor – co-signed by all three Woonsocket representatives, the core Task Force members and the entire City Council – about three weeks ago urging action on bringing the bus to the city.

“Although the procurement process was already underway at the state level, it should be noted that it now appears to be on hold,” they wrote. “While we are not certain what is causing the delay, we hope your office can help move things forward.”

Murray has personally appealed to the Senate Finance Committee and Pryor as well but has not yet heard anything back, she said. Pryor’s office did not immediately respond to request for comment on Friday.

Rev. Dan Sweet at Holy Trinity agreed to host the bus at the site of the parish and connect it to electricity and water, Lessing said, though Sweet did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

“Our aim is to get people off the street and keep them safe and healthy until they can get back on their feet,” according to The Source’s website. “Our accommodation is not a long term solution, but what we do provide is a safe, temporary and comfortable place to sleep for the night.”

City Council Vice President Valerie Gonzalez said the bus already has the support of the council, the city administration, and the city’s state delegation. Lessing said it also has the support of Gov. Daniel McKee.

“This would be something that keeps people off the streets at night,” she said. “We’re really pushing hard for this.”

She added that while the vehicle would mainly service the people of Woonsocket, it could theoretically be sent to other communities in the event of a natural disaster.

ConvergenceRI, a weekly contributor to RINewsToday, also did a story on the failed plan to bring the Dignity Bus to Rhode Island:,7817?newsletter=7821

This is a developing story.

Purchase Order from the State of Rhode Island:

To read the full purchase order:

Work order itemized by The Source:

Posted in ,


  1. Tj on July 18, 2023 at 4:23 pm

    yes the state has done alot now and will do alot for the humane reasons we’ve come a long way
    and the benefits are noticed altho i see that bus is a money pit disaster from the start sell it and keep our attention on buildens (like the armory) close to the homeless areas buses need major upkeep and parking i agree its causing to much attention and will not be sufficient & waste!
    or hand it to fema or red cross.

  2. Susan Sweet on May 15, 2023 at 5:58 pm

    Once again, Rhode Island has proven its incompetence and mistaken procedures. The General Assembly should take note and hold Oversight hearings. When will the administration be held responsible?

    • Carlon Brietzke on May 15, 2023 at 11:41 pm

      I thought you couldn’t live in an RV on the streets of RI only designated RV parks. How does the state propose to get around that.